This is from the web page of a highly selective (1 kid admitted to 4 who apply) 6-12 school in....California. I'm not going to say which one, because I think what follows is pretty universal for middle and upper independent schools. If you have to know, e-mail me and I'll tell you. Or you could Google yourself.
Do you consider more than just quantitative (standardized test results, GPA) factors?
Surely. Some parents each year challenge our decisions on the basis that we admitted a student with a weaker academic and/or test record than their student.
First of all, it is not valid to simply compare one applicant against another as we do look at each student in the larger context of a total applicant pool.
Secondly, a parent is not privy to important input we receive via recommendations and interviews.
Thirdly, a parent also lacks the perspective gained by knowing the full characteristics of other students admitted and the composition of our present student body.
We do reward achievement, but we also realize the limitations we face in dealing with such young students. Thus, we do take some "risks," believing that certain students will blossom at our school and realize their abundant potential. But, rest assured that we do spend a lot of time in our deliberations as we try to be as thorough and fair as possible in bringing together a diverse and able student body each year.
The ISEE (a standard admissions test)
a.) How important is it?
ISEE results are a factor yet not the determining one. We have no cutoffs or minimums. We realize that, inherent to any test of this kind, there are certain limitations as any standardized test fails to measure a student’s motivation, creativity, research ability, and character. But the ISEE does provide us with a common denominator, given that students apply from such a wide variety of schools and thus have somewhat different educational backgrounds. Test results are most helpful at the extremes, as we are impressed by high scores and perhaps a bit leery of low scores, yet the majority of our applicants fall into what is a wide middle range. In cases where we are familiar with a student’s school, where the student has performed well in a solid academic program, and where the recommendations are quite positive and insightful, less importance is placed on the ISEE. Likewise, in cases where we are unfamiliar with a student’s school or program, when a school does not grade and provides us with only sketchy recommendations, more weight must be given to these results.
Can the student take the ISEE more than once?
No. The participating schools, in adopting a common admissions program, established testing dates on several Saturdays within a three-month period to discourage students from taking the exam more than once. Only under very special circumstances, such as a sudden illness, would a request for an additional sitting be considered.
Do you recommend test preparation courses?
No, we do not. There has been much debate over the value of test preparation courses. The central question remains whether short-term coaching can improve a student’s performance on what is supposed to be a test of a student’s aptitude to learn. The ISEE, in terms of format and concepts tested, should be similar to the tests that students take annually at their current elementary or middle schools. Test preparation courses can lead to increased pressure by making the test appear, in the eyes of an already nervous young student, like the one all-important factor.